"Confidence in Ministry" Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

The apostle makes another contrast. Down here we seem to have a lot of trouble, and, doesn’t it seem to last a long time? It seems so hard at the time, but when we begin to measure it by the weight of glory that is coming someday, it is a light affliction compared to that weight of glory. Someone has said, “At eventide it shall be light.” “. . . we spend our years as a tale that is told” (Ps. 90:9). Our years pass as “. . . a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment (for a short while), is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Earth’s suffering will be forgotten in the glory of heaven.

Paul knew that nothing in this life lasts forever. Paul knew that the hardships he endured was a slight momentary affliction in comparison to how long he would enjoy God’s presence. He concluded, therefore, that the troubles of this world are an extremely light burden compared to the eternal weight of glory. Millions, billions, and trillions of years do not even compare to the length of infinite time.

We must not misunderstand this principle and think that a Christian can live anyway he pleases and expect everything to turn into glory in the end. Paul was writing about trials experienced in the will of God as he was doing the work of God. God can and does turn suffering into glory, but He cannot turn sin into glory. Sin must be judged, because there is no glory in sin. Of itself, suffering will not make us holier men and women. Unless we yield to the Lord, turn to His Word, and trust Him to work, our suffering could make us far worse Christians. In my own experience, I have seen some of God’s people grow critical and bitter, and go from bad to worse instead of “from glory to glory.” We need that “spirit of faith” that Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:13—“And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak.”

Our judgment of things depends upon the background against which we see them. Each of us has in the mind a background of ideas and beliefs in the light of which we make our judgments. If we have no belief in God or a future life, if we know nothing of Christ, if our view of the world is that it is merely a mechanical process without spiritual value or purpose, everything will be covered by this outlook. Trouble will be a disaster; pain will be a calamity; and sorrow a tragedy. But if we have the Christian view, the sufferings of earth will be no more than the chisel strokes of the sculptor, forgotten in the beauty of the statue which is being shaped from the marble. With this in mind, may I say to you that no background to a man’s thinking is complete which does not contain the story which the Bible tells? Without it our tradition of freedom is hanging in the air, and our moral standards have no solid foundation. When Paul looked at his life, he saw it always in light of one transforming experience—the meeting with the living Christ on the Damascus Road.

What does the apostle mean by the “eternal weight of glory” to which our light affliction is leading the believer? It cannot be clearly seen from the perspective of the living, because the Bible doesn’t fully develop the picture we have of heaven. The word “weight” suggests a balance scale with all the afflictions put in one side of the scale, and the glory, the blessings and privileges in the other; the latter will by far outweigh the trials (Rom. 8:18{10]). We are told in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” “The things which God has prepared” are waiting to be received by us like home awaits the traveler. The Book of Revelation shows us what strength this prospect gave the early Christians in face of a world that threatened to crush them. Even Jesus endured the cross in light of the joy set before Him. Against this background of the future glory, the trials of life and all the buffeting of circumstance appear in their true perspective. They are a slight momentary affliction.

18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things

which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Paul is saying, “We are not to fix our gaze on the things which are seen. These things that we see around us are all passing away. The things which are not seen are eternal.” Present day society is constantly changing. Change is expected, and people spend their lives trying to keep ahead of the changes in their workplace. Perhaps the best example we have today is the development of the computer—the technology is constantly evolving and something better is always on the horizon.

If we would only see the visible world the way the Lord wants us to see it, we would never be attracted by what it offers (1 John 2:15-17{14]). The great men and women of faith, mentioned in Hebrews 11, achieved what they did because they “saw the invisible” (Heb. 11:10, 13-14, 27{15]). Again, we must not press the truth to the extreme and think that “material” and “spiritual” oppose each other. When we use the material according to God’s will, He transforms it into the spiritual, and this becomes part of our treasure in heaven. We value the material because it can be used to promote the spiritual, and not for what it is in itself.

Someone may ask, “How can you look at things that are invisible? By faith, when you read the Word of God. We have never seen Christ or heaven, yet we know they are real because the word of God tells us so. Faith is “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1{7]). Because Abraham looked for the heavenly city, he separated himself from Sodom; but Lot chose Sodom because he walked by sight and not by faith (Ge. 13; Heb. 11:10{16]).
What really matters—what is eternal and permanent—cannot be seen, touched, or measured. Only with the eyes of faith can people look . . . at what cannot be seen. Only with eyes of faith can they begin to understand, with God’s help, the eternal significance of their actions. A believer’s help is not in this world. A Christian’s help is not in the power and wealth that can be accumulated on earth. Instead, a Christian’s hope is in Christ—someone who cannot be seen at the present moment (Rom. 8:24{6]; Heb. 11:1{7]). Nevertheless, Jesus Christ and His significance to every person’s life is real enough. That is why Paul encourage the Corinthians to live by faith and not by sight (5:7{8]). The Corinthians were to take their eyes off of this world—for what can be seen is temporary—and place them on the Almighty, the One who possessed all power. They were to invest in what was permanent and eternal and would withstand the unpredictable changes of life, in heavenly treasures that would never deteriorate (Luke 12:33{9]).

I think of the changes that have taken place right here in Laurens county, South Carolina since Sierra and I moved here in 2001. Many of the wonderful Christians I met have passed away. Churches that were thriving at the time have become mere shells of their former state, where only senior citizens worship. The city is different—some of the old buildings have been torn down and many others stand empty because the business has failed in this depressed economy—everything is different. The things which are seen are passing away. The things which are not seen, those are the things of eternal value, and they are beginning to loom larger and larger. “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Evil is still unconquered. The condition of the world today would fill us with despair if we saw nothing else. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels . . . crowned with glory and honor. . .” (Heb. 2:9). Stephen looking at the world around him in the hour of his death, saw a ring of savage men tossing stones on his prostrate body. Had he seen nothing else his spirit might have failed him, but he looked up and saw, “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and courage and faith filled his soul. His persecutors had no power over his spirit. Their stones became like the hammer strokes which nailed Christ to the cross. His suffering was for Christ and with Christ, and his response to this situation was a prayer like Christ’s for the forgiveness of his enemies.

Paul’s final word, “the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” sums up the Christian outlook with regard to the events and circumstances of this material world. Sorrow and suffering may be depressing and painful, but they belong to a world that is passing away. The triumph of evil is only temporary. So also are the honors, the material successes, and the pleasures which men value. But the unseen things—the love God has for us, the triumph of Christ, the kingdom of God, the character which is the fruit of the Spirit—all these are eternal. They are not at the mercy of change or decay. They continue forever.

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